The tents have come down, the lines have dissipated, and the chefs have flown home or collapsed into beds across the city: Feast 2019 has come and gone, which means Portland’s restaurant scene has returned to some modicum of normalcy, if that ever existed here in the first place.
As is tradition, Eater PDX covered the event with a rag-tag team of freelancers, who covered events throughout the city: Frequent map author Nick Woo hit Portland’s second-ever Zero Proof dinner, Eater contributor and social media maven Kara Stokes waited in the colossal line at the mash-up brisket cookout Franklin Barbecue & Friends, and guest editor and drinks writer Alex Frane drank out of the porron at the Vaguely Spanish party. From the seated meals to the raucous parties, Feast lived up to its name; this is what the Eater PDX team noticed along the way.
• The initial “versus” event may be one of the safest bets when it comes to bang-for-your-buck at Feast. Compared to other events, lines don’t get nearly as long, the event doesn’t feel as tightly packed, and it usually brings in some serious talent. At East Coast vs. West Coast, one of the strongest square-offs was a battle of the Portlands: New England seafood staple Eventide Oyster Company brought its famous brown butter lobster roll to Portland, which competed against a crab-salad-topped burger from Burger Stevens — it sounds excessive, but Don Salamone’s crabby patty held its own with pretty stiff competition. A surprise winner was tropical cocktail bar Palomar’s deeply rich, broody rabo encendido, a Cuban oxtail stew served with a fried plantain for scooping. If one Feast dish lands on a permanent menu, it should be that.
• Any time David Thompson schleps over to the United States for Feast, he steals the show. The chef appeared at a dinner with Portland culinary celebrity Andy Ricker, served a stunning laksa at a Thursday night fun-sized event, and scooped two separate curries at Friday’s Night Market. Still, Thompson’s lines were perplexingly short: His pork and pumpkin curries were the best dishes of Night Market, and his line was generally about half the size of Farmhouse Kitchen’s.
• Speaking of Night Market, lines at the outdoor street-food-centric event were... confusing, to say the least. The event was packed, which made figuring out where to stand particularly difficult. When asked, two separate people at Night Market didn’t know what they were waiting in line for, and had jumped into the longest line assuming it was for the best stand. A Feast novice also reported accidentally waiting in the same line for a dish he had already eaten. Beyond Thompson’s curries, Magna chef Carlo Lamagna’s beef kaldereta, a Filipino-style meat-and-potatoes bite, stood out, as well as Indonesian restaurant Gado Gado’s Balinese-blood-sausage-spiked rice noodle roll and chef Johanna Ware’s goodbye-tour goat curry.
• One of Feast weekend’s longest lines wasn’t even for an official Feast event. Sandwich standby Lardo hosted Nashville hot chicken restaurant Hattie B’s for a two-day pop-up, and lines for the Saturday lunch stretched for blocks down Hawthorne. If the chicken chain knows what’s good for them, they should start searching for some Portland real estate. A close second: Franklin Barbecue & Friends, a barbecue event featuring the famous Austin smokehouse and Portland’s hot Thai barbecue bar Eem.
• The Big Feast, now located at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, was once known as the Grand Tasting; it was a better way to describe the event. Those coming to the Big Feast expecting, well, to feast, instead encountered the usual gauntlet of wineries, breweries, distilleries. A few chefs hid among the booths, including Park Avenue Fine Wines chef Karl Holl at the Steven Smith Teamaker stand — his savory granola would be killer on a labneh breakfast bowl.
• As promised, Feast did amp up the non-alcoholic options, from Brew Dr. Kombucha to the Bitter Housewife, which is now selling cans of its bitters and soda. The great lesson of the weekend is that kombucha cans are just as crushable as beer, for those who were starting to develop a life-changing hangover by day three.
• In general, there’s a tendency to head into hypebeast territory at Feast that rarely succeeds. Some of the most memorable meals from this year and past years were the simplest: a summery tomato dish from Hogstone’s Wood Oven (Orcas Island) was a highlight of Smoked, as well as a plain-and-simple lengua taco from Austin’s Suerte. Similarly, the juicy grilled chicken wings from the soon-to-open Mama Bird were not just simple, but also a good omen for the restaurant and its future diners.
• In a shocking turn of events, Brunch Village may have been the best main event of the weekend. Normally, Brunch Village boasts the worst lines, but this year’s rainy event had some of the weekend’s best food with moderately manageable waits — excluding the shockingly long queue for NOLA Donuts. Barney Hannagan of Portland’s Australian brunch essential Proud Mary made a gorgeous charcoal pavlova, dotted with blueberries sitting in a pool of zippy passionfruit. Next door, David Moyle of Melbourne’s Longsong served a lovely salmon toast with sour cream, showing that Australia may own the brunch game. Another perplexingly underrated spot: Los Angeles’ Konbi — of the famous Japanese convenience-store-style sandwiches — served refreshingly crunchy carrot crudités with a shishito pepper-pistachio cream and a hefty sprinkle of nori. Most people, I suppose, want bloody marys and doughnuts in the morning over vegetables and salmon.
• A hot tip from Brunch Village this year: It sounds like the Beeswing gang — specifically Marissa Lorette and Ian Watson — is scoping Portland real estate for a new restaurant space. Good news for their cult followers, who have been mourning the loss of the Cully brunch spot.
• Every year, during the buzzing parties and in-between Lyft rides, in comments sections and on public transit, there is a quiet question murmured from those who haven’t been and those who have: Is Feast even worth it? Is it worth the $125 to stand in line outside, sometimes in the rain, to eat a two-bite morsel from a far-flung chef? Is it worth $200 to eat at a dinner featuring a handful of chefs from around the country, with no guarantees that their cooking styles necessarily mesh? It’s a complicated question with answers that vary from event to event. In general, it’s worth it to go to dinners and fun-sized events, for those who can afford it: The lines are shorter — diners even get a comfortable seat at the official dinners — and as unlikely as it seems, the opportunity to eat two bites of a meal from Aaharn without spending the money on a ticket to Hong Kong is worth it. A $200 multi-course dinner with wine pairings, while certainly steep for Portland, is pretty standard for other major cities in the United States, and the chefs coming in to cook often charge similar amounts in their own cities. But beyond the cost-benefit analysis comparing plane tickets to New York to a dinner ticket to Feast, many diners and writers alike forget that above all, Feast is a fundraiser: the festival has raised over $450,000 for hunger relief in Portland, from organizations helping feed Oregon’s food-insecure children to those taking restaurants’ soon-to-be-wasted food and redistributing it for hungry families. For those who aren’t inclined to volunteer for food pantries but don’t think twice about spending $150 on food and booze on a night out, Feast is absolutely worth it — not only for the average diner, but for those who don’t have the privilege of seeing food as a hobby. Not a bad way to kill a weekend.
Contributors: Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Nick Woo, Kara Stokes, and Alex Frane
Updated September 16, 2019, 12:14 p.m.: This story was updated to include intel from Brunch Village regarding Beeswing.
Correction: This story has been corrected to show that chef Karl Holl appeared at the Steven Smith Teamaker stand, not the Townshend stand.